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Lambert v. Tesla, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 17, 2019

Dewitt Lambert, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Tesla, Inc., DBA Tesla Motors, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted April 16, 2019 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California D.C. No. 3:17-cv-05369-VC Vince Chhabria, District Judge, Presiding

          Noah B. Baron (argued) and Lawrence A. Organ, California Civil Rights Law Group, San Anselmo, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Danielle L. Ochs (argued) and Roshni Chaudhari, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C., San Francisco, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: SIDNEY R. THOMAS, Chief Judge, MILAN D. SMITH, JR., Circuit Judge, and KATHRYN H. VRATIL, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Employment Discrimination / Arbitration

         Affirming the district court's order compelling arbitration, the panel held that racial discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 may be subjected to compulsory arbitration.

         Following the reasoning of EEOC v. Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, 345 F.3d 742 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc), addressing the arbitrability of Title VII claims, the panel held that § 1981 claims are arbitrable. Applying the Gilmer test, Luce, Forward concluded that § 118 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, amending both Title VII and § 1981, does not bar arbitration.

         Concurring, Chief Judge Thomas agreed that Luce, Forward was dispositive but wrote separately because he believes that Luce, Forward was wrongly decided. Chief Judge Thomas wrote that the statutory text of § 118, stating that arbitration should be encouraged to the extent it is appropriate and authorized by law, is ambiguous. Considering the legislative history, compelling arbitration in § 1981 actions defies Congress's intent.

          OPINION

          M. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Plaintiff-Appellant DeWitt Lambert filed suit against Defendant-Appellee Tesla, Inc. (Tesla), alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Tesla moved to compel arbitration, and the district court granted the motion. Lambert appealed, arguing that § 1981 claims cannot be subjected to compulsory arbitration. Following the reasoning of our en banc decision in EEOC v. Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, 345 F.3d 742 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc), we hold that § 1981 claims are arbitrable.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In his complaint, Lambert alleged that he began working as a production associate in Tesla's Fremont, California factory in 2015. His employment contract included an arbitration provision that "purport[ed] to require the parties to arbitrate disputes arising between them."

         During his employment, Lambert, an African American, claimed that "the other employees consistently harassed him" due to his race. This abuse took various forms, from petty and puerile harassment (employees would stick Lambert's tools to a table with adhesive tape and take photos with his phone without permission) to vicious and vituperative comments. Lambert's appeals to Tesla's human resources department were unavailing, and he further alleged that the company "discriminated against and retaliated against" him and "refus[ed] to promote [him] because of his race."

         Lambert filed suit against Tesla in the district court, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He also sought a declaration that his § 1981 claim was nonarbitrable. Tesla moved the district court to either dismiss Lambert's action or compel arbitration. The court concluded that our precedent permitted the arbitrability of § 1981 claims, and granted Tesla's motion to compel arbitration. Lambert v. Tesla, Inc., No. 17-cv-05369-VC, 2018 WL 317793, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 8, 2018). This timely appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW AND JURISDICTION

         "We review de novo the district court's order compelling arbitration." Harden v. Roadway Package Sys., Inc., 249 F.3d 1137, 1140 (9th Cir. 2001). We have jurisdiction pursuant to ...


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